Many leagues around the world claim to be the most exciting or most unpredictable around. With La Liga and the Premier League battling it out for supremacy in terms of resources and talent, it is this excitement factor that other leagues need to use to their advantage when trying to grow their audience in this new globalised footballing community. Never has this been truer than in the case of the Campeonato Brasileiro.
To give an illustration of the absurdity that is the Brasileirão, last season’s Champions Fluminense lie fifth, having spent the majority of the season languishing in the bottom half, whilst 2010 runners-up Cruzeiro are in a lowly 16th place, facing a possible relegation battle. Vasco da Gama, 11th last season, sit top of the table with just twelve games to play and surprisingly, continental Champions Santos lie in the bottom half of the table, even at this late stage of the season.
A New TV Deal
The Brazilian football league is on the rise. A massively increased TV deal set to come into play next year is allowing the top clubs in the country to purchase players with a freedom they could previously ill-afford, the direct consequence of which being that for the first time in many years, more players were repatriated to Brazil this summer than departed for distant lands.
The clubs are now paying competitive salaries and the league is benefitting. This season, talented young players such as Elkeson, Neymar, Leandro Damião and Dedé have been phenomenal, but the likelihood is that if they had emerged just a year or two earlier, they would all be plying their trade elsewhere by this point in their development. For now, Brazil is able to retain its talent longer and the Brazilian public are able to witness the likes of Neymar for a longer period of time, rather than briefly at either end of their careers.
It is important however, that despite this wave of of optimism, Brazilian football chiefs remember that the competitiveness of the league is its major selling point and it is on this issue that a critical error may already have taken place.
A Grave Mistake?
When negotiating the new set of TV rights deals, the clubs were not united in their bargaining and instead different financial packages have been negotiated on a club-by-club basis, with Flamengo and Corinthians by far the greatest beneficiaries.
For all the benefits that the league as a whole will receive from the new influx of money, there is a danger that this ‘La Liga style’ TV deal will create a dual tiered league. Whilst Cruzeiro and Internacional for example will receive £20 million annually, Flamengo and Corinthians will have a further £16 million a year that they can utilise to strengthen their side. Despite the money not yet having been paid, this difference in spending power is already noticable.
Flamengo have repatriated the likes of Ronaldinho and Thiago Neves at some considerable expense, whilst Corinthians can afford to offer £40 million for Carlos Tevez, despite already paying the wages of big-names Liédson, Adriano and Alex amongst others.
However, for all the problems it will cause, the fact that two clubs are getting such a substantial share of the TV money may provide the league with an immediate boost. If Corinthians can buy Tevez for example, the profile boost to the league as a whole and the interest it will generate far outweighs that of a spread of ‘average’ players throughout the league. This immediate impact would then bring monetary benefits that could then be spread more fairly across the league, but the inequality must not continue past the short-term for the good of the league.
More Money = Increased Stability
The ability of the league to amaze in terms of its unpredictability has been in no small part down to the lack of stability caused by the pressure to balance the books. This new financial boost, even if entirely balanced and fair, would naturally allow winning teams to keep their unit together longer, rather than face the perennial problem of having their best players picked off by the circling vultures.
In some part, their would be a natural progression towards a more stable league, however the artificial altering of the level playing field does not reward good forward planning, careful management and team-building in the same way as the organic route. But, the ambitions of Brazilian clubs are more complicated still and this complexity to the season is often overlooked.
Other Variables Will Still Exist
This season sees Santos wallowing in the lower half of the table, having been crowned Champions of South America only in June. Playing a weakened side in the league during the Libertadores campaign only accounts for a minimal amount of their poor form, rather that Libertadores qualification is considered the prime objective of the league season and Santos are already assured qualification.
Add this to the fact that the club’s focus immediately turned to the Club World Cup in December and it is easy to see how Santos’ poor form came about. With the Copa do Brasil providing another route into the Libertadores, the league is not always a side’s utmost priority, despite the acclaim a triumph would bring.
It is also important to remember that due to Brazil’s vast size, it can accomodate many ‘giant’ clubs in different regional centres. There are four states (Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Rio Grande do Sul and Minas Gerais) that provide the majority of the Brasileirão’s sides and within these individual states, there are several big clubs.
It is fair to say that the Premier League’s ‘Top Four’, or La Liga’s ‘Top Two’ represent the current footballing powerhouses of those countries, however when talking about Brazil this number could easily reach ten or twelve. The sheer quantity of sides believing they can be the best in Brazil at any one time, makes unpredictability an ever present.
The differences in TV deal negotiated and the general increased money in the market will change greatly the face of the Campeonato Brasileiro. The new-found wealth will do much to aid squad stability and successful sides will be able to repeat success with greater ease, but as a Santos side largely unchanged from that which blew South America away just a few months ago are proving, Brazil is and never will be predictable.